POWELL, Wyo. - Preparing to live with reduced state appropriations and mindful of lower statewide revenue estimates, the Northwest College Board of Trustees yesterday heard details of budget cuts planned for the coming year.
NWC trustees reviewed a list of cuts which includes $835,000 in operating expenditure reductions and staff realignments, restructuring and attrition, according to NWC President Paul Prestwich.
"While cutting budgets is never pleasant, it's necessary in this financial environment," Prestwich said. "We've carefully considered all areas of the college in our deliberations. While additional reductions may loom in the near future, we're pleased that we're able to reduce our expenditures without recommending to the board that the reduction-in-force policy be invoked."
Given lower revenue estimates, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal instructed all state agencies in January to begin planning for 5-10 percent budget cuts next year.
Prestwich said the President's Advisory Council-himself, plus the college's four vice presidents-arrived at the reductions after weeks of studying college operations.
While across-the-board cuts are easier to implement, Prestwich believes they are not fiscally responsible.
"Such cuts aren't strategic," Prestwich said. "They simply erode operational effectiveness throughout the college at a time when we need to be as dynamic as possible to serve our students."
He added that making across-the-board reductions was strongly discouraged by the governor in his messages to state agencies.
"Given that about 75 percent of our budget is salary and benefits-not at all unusual in higher education-we're fortunate that reductions planned at this point don't include layoffs," Prestwich emphasized.
Prestwich told faculty and staff weeks ago that he would use three methods to approach budget reductions-cuts to operating funds, not filling some vacant positions and reductions in force. His further promise to employees was that cuts would be sustainable in the future.
The first-year president explained the planned cuts are a combination of NWC's share of a 5 percent reduction to the state's seven community colleges' block grant (approximately $471,000) plus about $350,000 which NWC expects to lose next year because of shrinking valuations in tax districts of the seven colleges and decreased investment income.
Also part of the equation is the Wyoming Community College Commission's yet-to-be finalized funding formula.
"While the formula is yet to be finalized, early projections aren't positive for NWC," Prestwich said, "so we need to prepare ourselves financially for whatever lies ahead."
NWC's expected savings will come from reductions in operating areas such as vehicle purchases, telephone system, utilities, print periodicals in Hinckley Library, employee stipends, extended campus operations, mileage reimbursement and employee recruiting. In addition, savings will come from employee reductions and reorganizations, including not filling two vacant faculty positions in business and math/engineering.
The proposed reductions will be part of the college's preliminary budget which, by state statute, must be presented to trustees in May. Action to adopt an annual budget follows a public hearing the third Wednesday in July, a date also set by statute.
A depressed economy presents a distasteful irony for the nation's community colleges, Prestwich said.
"Greater unemployment caused by a declining economy puts an increased demand on community colleges," he explained. "With increasing enrollment of students seeking to upgrade their skills and improve their lives, now is when community colleges need more help, not less.
"Obviously, we hope the revenue picture doesn't compel the governor to dictate cuts of more than 5 percent, but if he does, we'll go back to the table and look deeper."